Home Contact Us
Reference - Articles
Business Process Reengineering

 Redefine Bureaucracy for Survival
Prepared By Dr. Mir F. Ali
In his recent report to the House of Commons on October 5, 1995, Denis Desautels, Auditor General of Canada, indicated that for 1994-95 the federal debt of $546 billion amounts to close to three quarters of the income generated by Canadians last year. He noted that the larger the debt burden becomes, the greater the weight of interest charges and therefore the less available for program needs, without resorting to higher taxes.

Focusing on the Systems Under Development section, Denis Desautels identified the need for looking to the significant potential offered by information technology to reduce costs and improve service. He expressed his dissatisfaction with the way major government projects are being managed and identified the following factors critical to managing the risks that effect the successful introduction of information technology.

Effective project sponsorship by an individual who can ensure that the organization understands and achieves the planned benefits from the systems development project; Clearly defined functional and system requirements; Effective user involvement and commitment to the success of the project; and the expertise and experience of resources dedicated to the project.

It was also mentioned in the report that the Treasury Board Secretariat has undertaken a major review of the factors contributing to the difficulties associated with the development projects and they are currently working with departments on a variety of changes to the project initiation, management, and monitoring processes. This gives an impression that the office of the Auditor General has done its job by identifying the deficiency, Treasury Board is taking corrective actions to rectify the situation, and everybody lives happily ever after. Unfortunately, that is just wishful thinking.

It is quite clear that it is not the Auditor General of Canada that is responsible for providing directions to government departments, but Treasury Board. It is also recognized that the Auditor General is in a delicate situation and diplomacy must be exercised when delivering bad news. However, it is inconceivable that the Auditor General will just identify certain critical success factors for resolving the chronic problem of developing information technology systems in the government without doing any follow-up. It is obvious that there is something drastically wrong with the way these systems are being developed as almost no single major project in the federal government has ever been delivered on time or within budget.

Suggesting certain critical success factors to cure this severe predicament is no different than prescribing aspirin to a terminal patient who requires major surgery. These project management guidelines or critical success factors have been repeated again and again in various forms and shapes for the last twenty-five years. It is not that the departments have no respect for the central agencies or that they are not prepared to follow the instructions from Treasury Board or the Office of the Auditor General, but the fact that these critical success factors deal with the symptoms of the problem, not the cause. The real problem is bigger and more hideous than anybody cared to understand. When we deal with the symptoms instead of the cause of a problem, it often feels like the harder you try the worse it gets. This has been the case with the federal government's efforts to develop information technology solutions.

Treasury Board is aware of the fact that:

There is a need for proper management of the more than $2 billion (Planned expenditure on some 25 projects) at risk in the large information technology projects; $61 million dollars were spent on the Public Service Commission System without realizing the planned benefits; and There is a lack of leadership for effective sponsorship and accountability but perhaps more importantly that the existing management framework is insufficient with respect to project management and monitoring.

Unfortunately, Treasury Board is perceived to be failing to demonstrate the leadership needed to address the cause of the overall problems in the federal government by not coming up with an effective management framework to develop or acquire reliable, functional, and acceptable information technology solutions to earn the respect of the community. The general perception is that technology in the federal government is under utilized, dealing with the legacy systems is a major problem, the concept of common systems and the sharing spirit is a dream, Treasury Board policies and procedures are outdated, the idea of a Departmental Integrator was a failure, the Blueprint for renewing government services using information technology was a disappointment, and there is a lack of federal enterprise vision.

Treasury Board has gone through another painful experience, which had a direct impact on its ability to provide directions. It took them a long time to convince their political masters that there was a need for recognizing and appointing a Chief Informatics Officer (CIO) for the government of Canada with the overall responsibility to address the information technology issues in the federal government. It enabled them to create a separate division within the structure in the name of Information Management, Systems and Technology (IMST). It put Canada on the global map as very few countries had the vision to appoint a Chief Informatics Officer in the government. It gave a hope to departments and anticipation of a clear, concise, and strategic direction to finally deal with the major issues. However, this dream only lasted long enough to get people excited as the division, IMST, was dismantled and a major reorganization took place, only to attach this division back to the Comptroller Office. This was a major set back as they lost significant time and momentum in the pursuit of their mandate.

However, the reality is that the government of Canada is faced with a real serious problem. The billions of dollars invested in the existing technologies is not paying off, the current approach to solving the overall information problems and maximizing the use of technologies is not working, and the organizations involved must realize the need for a drastic change to overcome these difficulties. The needed change can be implemented only if Treasury Board is prepared to undertake an initiative to provide the leadership for reengineering the government environments by:
  • Eliminating the useless and meaningless activities, which do not serve any purpose to support the mandate/mission of the organization and reconciling the services against the clients' needs and expectations;
  • Redesigning and reorganizing optimized activates to ensure that the duplication overlaps, redundancies, and bottlenecks are removed and relevant, accurate, and consistent information are flown smoothly through these activities;
  • Selecting the right technologies for automation with the focus to speed up the information flow, ensuring the integrity, security, and accessibility of the information;
  • Providing relevant training, tools, and techniques to empower personnel for performing their tasks at a level, which is not only consistent with the overall mandate of the government but also acceptable from a performance measurement point of view;
  • Determining the surplus resources, human as well as other capital, based on the current and anticipated business needs required to ontinue to provide services; and
  • Designing a systematic approach to introducing changes in an as transparent as possible manner without jeopardizing the current committed level of service.

In spite of the general lack of appreciation for the Blueprint developed and promoted by Treasury Board, we as a company perceived the potential and made a strategic decision to transform the framework into a BPR methodology. The domain was amplified by adding the Organizational View to the five views presented in the Blueprint and each view has been intensified in a manner that provides guidelines for optimizing business processes. At the same time, "Implementation Strategy" was incorporated as a part of the methodology to deal with the political realities in defining "radical" improvement, setting strategic drivers, and articulating a realistic approach for implementation. Also, a provision has been made in the methodology to take advantage of Activity-Based Costing (ABC).

The BPR methodology has been reengineered by taking advantage of a modeling tool, which accelerated the process by minimizing the consulting efforts and maximizing the performance. This methodology has been tested in the federal government. The experience gained dealing with the federal culture, political realities, and overall resistance for change, enabled us to come up with the following top ten obstacles for implementing BPR in the federal government:

  • Obstacle 10 - Tendency to deal with symptoms: Public servants often seem to be in a hurry to implement quick technical solutions without going through a process to understand the overall impact on the predetermined priorities, current service level, or committed strategic directions. They do not mind doing or attempting the same thing again and again but they do not seem to have the time or patience to investigating the cause of the problem.  Attitudes have to be changed towards work to stop dealing with symptoms.
  • Obstacle 9 - Topdown approaches are not feasible: The Topdown approach is considered to be one of the basic principles of BPR and unfortunately it is not applicable in the federal government simply because the federal departments do not have an up-to-date enterprise business model to reflect their functions, roles, and responsibilities. The majority of the departments operate focusing on their organizational structure without giving many considerations to the functional structure. Therefore, the so-called renewal groups being established in various departments with the mandate to renew government services are failing miserably. In the cases where consultants are being contracted, they are ending up applying a bottom-up approach for the same reason.

    There is an excellent opportunity for Treasury Board to follow the guidelines provided in the Blueprint and provide the leadership necessary for the development of an enterprise model for each department, which could then be consolidated to come up with an enterprise model for the entire government of Canada.
  • Obstacle 8 - Radical changes are not achievable: Radical change is another basic principle of BPR but unfortunately it is also not applicable in the federal government where no enterprise models are available to take advantage of radical changes in a systematic manner. Departments are making political compromises and attempting to implement incremental changes depending upon the level of tolerance for changes in individual departments. In most of the cases these changes are being made vertically within various branches of the department and this is not addressing the horizontal issues to eliminate overlaps, redundancy, and information bottlenecks. In fact this approach has the tendency to promote inconsistency for making business decisions based on a different view of the information. Radical changes required a major overhaul of the current federal practices.
  • Obstacle 7 - Horizontal thinking is not popular: In our experience dealing with public servants, it has become evident that they like to work vertically. Very seldom do they have any idea about where the information is coming from, where their outcome is directed to, or the overall impact of their functions on the organization as a whole. It almost gives an impression that they are working for a department within a department and the resultant information bottlenecks are slowing down the process significantly. This is not an efficient way to run a business.  Horizontal thinking must be promoted to ensure smooth information flow within the department.
  • Obstacle 6 - No incentive to do better: There is no meaningful reward system in place to motivate public servants. There is no consistent management discipline practiced to provide a focus to set objectives, goals, critical success factors and to track performance. This leaves public servants with an impression that there is no incentive for doing better as the system does not know how to differentiate a better performance.

    The overall environment is depressing because of the salary freeze in the government, there is no more security for jobs, and therefore it is difficult, if not impossible, to motivate public servants to come with creative ideas for the renewal of government services.
  • Obstacle 5 - Decision makers are waiting to be retired: It has been our experience with senior bureaucrats that they do not seem to have enough interest to undertake any significant initiatives that may lead to major conflict or require major policy, procedures or legislature change. The best policy for these senior people is to do nothing and wait for their turn for the "golden hand shake".
  • Obstacle 4 - Tendency to automate chaos: Automation initiatives are very seldom undertaken based upon a sound strategic business plan. The majority of the automation initiatives in the federal government are generated by the middle managers. These initiatives are based on individual experiences and while these managers may have a technical solution, they do not necessarily understand the business priority for the business problem they are attempting to resolve. As a result, there is no shortage of examples in every department of incompatible and inconsistent so called technical solutions that have automated for the sake of automating. This has to be stopped.
  • Obstacle 3 - Misconception - People Vs Process: There seems to be a common misunderstanding in the federal community where senior bureaucrats believe that they can resolve these crises by eliminating people. These senior managers do not have a clue about what is causing this situation, they have no idea how they are going to maintain the current level of service without having enough people around, and perhaps most importantly, they do not understand what it takes to support the current, as well as the future, business processes. The best example is a decision to retire 45,000 employees without going through any meaningful process to determine what kinds of skills will be required to continue to provide quality services in the future.

    Perhaps the focus should be on how to improve the process by providing the right information to the right people through the proper use of technology, by determining what kind of skills are required and what kind of resources can be declared surplus.
  • Obstacle 2 - Overall resistance for change: The federal government culture is very strong. Senior managers have invested a better part of their lives building comfortable and convenient methods to do business the way they see fit. They are very loyal to the system they have created, they support the membership no matter what, and they reward those who follow their lead. They do not necessarily like to be questioned and do not feel obligated to provide any explanation for their actions. They make sure that only manageable "fresh blood" is injected in the system and they also make sure that either this "fresh blood" becomes a part of the immunity or it gets flushed out very quickly.

    The idea of introducing a change in this environment is nothing but a great challenge as every effort will be made either to prove the change agent is incompetent or frustrate the change agent to the extent the proposed changed will be abandoned.
  • Obstacle 1- Lack of leadership: There is a definite need to provide specific directions and leadership for conducting and implementing BPR initiatives in the federal government. Traditionally, Treasury Board is expected to play the leading role. However, based on bad experiences with some aggressive maverick departments in the past, Treasury Board is too sensitive to the departmental needs and is not prepared to come out and implement any significant changes, even though they are running out of choices. They do not like to be perceived as a central agency that is telling departments what to do. Perhaps the easiest thing for Treasury Board was to take away 45,000 people from the workplace assuming that this would teach departments how to be efficient.

Unfortunately, at the same time, no Chief Executive Officer (Deputy Minister) is expressing enough interest to implement a Topdown initiative with the objective to redesign the total business environment, take advantage of technologies, and empower personnel to provide quality services on a cost effective basis.
Perhaps the best way to redefine the bureaucracy is to disregard the "political correctness" for a change, work together to develop a strategy for eliminating the obstacles, and reengineer the environments on a consistent, concise, and credible manner to provide government services that are affordable, accessible, and responsive. Unfortunately, this is not an option any more; in fact it is a survival trick.

Return to

Copyright 2003 - Automated Information Management Corporation